After a one-hundred day hiatus, the Premier League returned with two games on Wednesday that outlined what to expect for the rest of the season.
As teams lined up at the centre-circle to pay their respects to those who have lost the battle with COVID-19, the Premier League returned, taking its first, uncertain steps into a post-lockdown world.
Commendably, players were supported as they took a knee before kickoff in solidarity with the anti-injustice protests echoing across the globe. Each shirt worn bore an NHS badge on the front, and “Black Lives Matter”, taking the place of players’ names on the back.
The Premier League has returned to a world very different from the one it left.
Depending on your choice of broadcasters, you either heard the calls of players and coaches echoing across empty stadia, or piped in crowd noises that sounded like they had been pulled from a late noughties instalment of the FIFA series. Either way, the stands were bare, saved for the spaced-out substitutes, clubs staff and press.
Five substitutes, water breaks in the middle of each half, and Premier League football in the middle of June, none of it is particularly normal, but then, nothing about this situation has been normal. The Premier League has finally returned, bringing with it some much-needed escapism and distraction from the troubles of the world.
Unlike the Bundesliga
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Unlike the Bundesliga, home teams fared quite well in the first couple of games back. Aston Villa clung on to a technology-assisted goalless draw against Champions League-chasing Sheffield United at Villa Park, and Manchester City firmly reminded Arsenal of the current pecking order at the Etihad.
The lack of crowds will place a larger focus on what takes place on the pitch; gone will be the fierce atmospheres and fans heckling every touch of the ball the opposition take. The effects of the empty stadium will vary from team to team, and player to player. To some, it may be harder to get into the mindset needed to play without the fans at their backs, but for others, the pressure may be lifted.
In the end, however, as City proved against Arsenal, the best players should still have no problems rising to the occasion, as the Premier League seeks to close out this unprecedented season in the strangest of circumstances.
🗣”Michael Oliver asked if we were doing something and said do I check with the Premier League and I said it doesn’t matter about the Premier League”
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) June 17, 2020
Kudos, then, to David Luiz for his comedy of errors at the back for Arsenal, and to the goal-line technology at Villa Park for sparking another debate about VAR, and bringing a much-needed sense of familiarity to these unfamiliar settings.